Symphony Silicon Valley played a work by Jennifer Higdon last set (Concerto for Orchestra). I was surprised to learn she was a flutist, as I assumed she played a non-wind instrument because my part went too low for the oboe. (I just thought someone who writes too low or too high for a woodwind must be from other section of the orchestra. Go figure!) But I’m not complaining; I liked the work quite a lot, and it was fun to play. One player guessed that Ms. Higdon may have originally had the part an octave higher, but since the other two oboes play that she might have, at the last minute, moved it down an octave and simply didn’t notice the problem It was suggested I email her and ask what she’d like me to do, but I never got around to it. Maybe next time.

But, moving on, moving on …

There’s an article in Eugene, Oregon’s Register-Guard that includes these paragraphs:

“It was such a struggle to go to school. School is set up for people who already know something about classical music. I didn’t.”

But Higdon turned that ignorance to her advantage, she says, by working terribly hard to learn about serious music.

“I actually went off to college to major in music without even knowing Beethoven’s symphonies,” she said. “That’s kind of an audacious thing to do.”

Interesting, don’t you think?

But you want to know what stuck out to these old eyes? The “serious music” line. Granted, I like to be a music snob. I’ve been called as much. By close family members. But still.

I’m assuming those are the writer’s words, not Higdon’s. Higdon grew up, after all, with rock and roll, folk and various other kinds of music. Surely some music besides “classical” can also be “serious”? If not, what are they? Is all other music trivial? (That’s what I’m told is the antonym to the word serious.) And is all “serious music” (otherwise called “art music” … “classical” … “long haired music” … “dead white guys'” … “straight” … “uptight” … “boring” … tee hee … what else has it been called?) truly serious or might some of it be trivial as well.

Okay. Enough of me. I’m hungry. Sushi calls! (It’s nearly alive, after all. ;-)

PS And why does “classical” music always have to be “serious”? Can’t it also be whimsical, fun, romantic, light-hearted and even horrendous and horrible?

Hmmm. Dinner is still calling. And it’s getting more dead by the minute.


  1. I played that same part (is it a rental? I can’t remember…hmm…if it is, maybe it’s my part!) with the Eugene Symphony a couple years ago. I really liked it. I do remember the low notes…at least to low A-flat, right?

  2. Patricia Mitchell

    Hi Jill,

    Yep, it’s rental. (And probably will be for … what? … another 71 years?) Who knows who played our parts last, but whatever group it was I’m guessing was a college or youth orchestra, as we had some rather bizarre markings. I know there are a number of different sets of parts. (This may have been “Set B” but I might be imagining that!)

    My part went to a low F, actually! Amazing. If only she’d put it on EH. I could have easily played EH since we also played Borodin’s “Steppes”. (Our orchestra hates to add the doubling fee when they haven’t budgeted for it.)

    I wondered, in fact, why she used pic, bass clarinet, contra bassoon, and NO EH … the BEST of all the “secondary” (although really a primary, of utmost important) instrument. Very odd.

  3. Ah yes, low F. You mean you don’t have that extension on your oboe?

    My part (also rental) for Barber’s Second Essay has some interesting markings, including “1/2″ written over most E-flats. Hmmm…must have been a less experienced player.